National News

It's wicked expensive to host the Olympics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-07-28 01:59
$6.27 billion

That's how much in losses for the second quarter was reported by BP on Tuesday morning. The company has been dealing not only with falling oil prices, but also the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which has already cost $55 billion in pre-tax charges. And as the Wall Street Journal writes, Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary says the company is preparing for oil prices to stay low for much longer, given that the nuclear deal with Iran may open up new resources in the market.

177 countries

That's how many will compete in the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles — officials expect $100 million will be pumped into the city's economy as a result. The games have been gaining a higher profile lately, and at least one big sports broadcaster has taken notice. ESPN is producing daily segments from the games, and is also maintaining a studio on site. 

$8.6 billion

Speaking of the Olympics, that's how much a Boston Olympic Games was forecasted to cost. That is, until the city's bid was rescinded. As Reuters reports, the Olympic committee withdrew its bid to host the 2024 games after Boston's mayor Marty Walsh said tax payers couldn't afford the price tag of such an event.

$60 million

That's how much "Freedom to Marry," a group advocating for same-sex marriage, raised during its existence. But following the Supreme Court Decision to extend the rights of marriage to same-sex couples, "Freedom to Marry" founder Evan Wolfson announced the organization would shut down, as its main goal had been achieved. With such a huge victory for LGBT advocates, many organizations find themselves bracing for a drop in donations as some donors assume the biggest battle is over.


That's how much a New Jersey man drove off with after two ATM workers left a bag of cash unattended. After replenishing machines in Mahwah, NJ, the workers accidentally left a white bag of cash on a nearby lawn and drove away. As the AP writes, a passenger in a white van was filmed picking up the stash later on, as evidenced by surveillance footage.

The Struggle To Breathe Life Back Into Empty Schools

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 01:06

As urban schools across the country continue to lose students, the question districts like St. Louis face is: What to do with all of those empty buildings?

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Squeezed By Drought, California Farmers Switch To Less Thirsty Crops

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 01:05

Water scarcity is leading farmers away from planting staples and towards planting higher-value, lower-water specialty crops. Think wine grapes and pomegranates instead of citrus and avocados.

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The Demise Of Old-Style Demolition Derby

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 01:03

Demo derby used to be a low-budget hobby for guys who bought jalopies for one last romp before the scrap heap. But the evemt has changed — and some fear it may be running out of gas.

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How Finns Make Sports Part Of Everyday Life

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 01:00

In Finland, 90 percent of adults take part in sports or exercise at least twice a week. The Nordic nation far outpaces the U.S. in adult sports participation. Free and easy access to facilities helps.

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The 'Swim Whisperer' Teaches Kids To Be Water-Safe

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 00:57

For 20 years, Conrad Cooper has been making children in LA water-safe by earning his young students' unwavering trust.

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Tired Of The Big City? Consider Telecommuting From Montana

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 23:33

Greg Gianforte, a successful high-tech entrepreneur, is recruiting — not for his company, but for telecommuters to move to rural Montana and bring their high-paying jobs with them.

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Boy Scouts Of America End Blanket Ban On Gay Leaders

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 16:14

The Boy Scouts National Executive Board approved a resolution that would allow "openly gay adult leaders and employees." But local units will still be able to bar gay leaders.

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California Health Insurance Exchange Keeps Rate Hikes Low — Again

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 15:14

Monthly premiums for health insurance plans in the Covered California marketplace will increase by an average of 4 percent for 2016. The price for some plans will drop.

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With Religious Services, Immigrant Detainees Find 'Calmness'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 14:05

In-house chaplains have helped detainees cope with daily frustration, even reducing violence in detention centers. But meeting the spiritual needs of people from all over the world is a challenge.

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The 'Shock of Confinement': The Grim Reality Of Suicide In Jail

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:59

About 1,000 people die in American jails every year and about a third of those are suicides. Jails often house people who've never been in legal trouble before, and it can have a traumatic effect.

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Sports channels tap fantasy games for new content

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:34

The website DraftKings just secured $300 million in funding, with investors including Fox Sports, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. The site allows people to play and bet on daily fantasy games in several different sports. Earlier this month, FanDuel, another daily fantasy site, raised $275 million.

Fox Sports was the lead investor, and the deal includes a commitment by DraftKings to spend $250 million advertising on Fox over the next three years.

“Sports networks, they see this as all additive to their core business," says Eric Fisher,  a staff writer for the SportsBusiness Journal.  "[The] fantasy player has been proven over and over again as a more engaged consumer of the games themselves either in person or on TV.”

Players like Adrian Sharoyan in Queens, New York, who’s been playing fantasy sports for 15 years.

“When I first started playing fantasy sports, I [only watched] my favorite team, which is the Yankees," he says. "And once I started playing fantasy sports, I became instantly more interested in every game that was going on.”

Sharoyan’s been betting on DraftKings for the last two years. He likes that he can make a new roster every day.

Sports networks need consumers like him, says Jimmy Lynn, a special adviser for Georgetown University’s Sports Industry Management graduate program.

“The networks are always looking for content to bring eyeballs, and they make their money through the subscription fees and the advertising,” he says.

Lynn says the networks are also looking for new content, like TV shows focused exclusively on fantasy sports, especially because most of the major sports leagues are already locked into long-term contracts. And, since fantasy sports is one venue where it’s legal to place bets, more and more people are getting in the game.  


A desert city welcomes California's high-speed train

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:21

California has begun work on the largest infrastructure project underway in the country. Eventually, a high-speed train will connect San Francisco with Los Angeles at speeds of more than 200 miles an hour. The rail project is estimated to cost $68 billion. Some cities in the path of the proposed route hate the rail project, but not Palmdale.

About 60 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, Palmdale is a hot desert city of about 150,000 people. In vacant dirt lots, Joshua trees tilt like cactus scarecrows. The high-speed rail project could be this city's gravy train. The Palmdale train station is currently just a one-room operation. It has a few benches, where passengers can wait for either the bus or a commuter train.

"It's not going to look nothing like this," Rich Poston says. "It's going to be totally different. There's going to be a 10-track station."

Poston does architectural design and owns three companies that may get a piece of the work on the high-speed rail project. "We would be happy with getting a half-million-dollar contract," he says. "And then, remember that once we do that here, there are 22 stations. So we can duplicate that and go to other areas and bid on those stations as well."

High-speed rail represents a big opportunity for small, minority-owned firms like Poston's, because about 30 percent of the work is supposed to go to them. So large, bonded companies want to partner with qualified minority-owned small businesses.

"If they don't get the minority participation, they can't win the bid," says Poston, who is a member of the local African-American chamber of commerce. "They're looking for us in the daytime with a flashlight."

He says this is a rich opportunity for workers with the right skills. "For the electrician? I would say it's at least $46 or $50 an hour. Now, to me, that's a mortgage-paying job."

High-speed rail would also improve the lives of Palmdale commuters. A commuter train takes about two hours to get to Los Angeles. The bullet train could cut that time to 20 minutes.

Sammy Hults lives in Palmdale and travels for work. "It would allow me to look for work in more different major cities," he says. "And having this rail, it'd be really easy to get there because travel time is really short."

Shorter travel times could also have a big impact on real estate. Palmdale has traditionally been an outpost for people who can't afford to buy property in Los Angeles.

"It's really affordable still, and that's one of the reasons that a lot of people move into the area," says Marco Henriquez, who owns Amigo Real Estate. "You can have a house and pay a lot less. Most of the times, half what you pay in the L.A. area."

He shows me a three-bedroom, two-bath house on the east side of town. The 1,400-square-foot house was built in 1985. It was recently painted and has new carpet. Henriquez calls it a typical starter home. The price tag: $190,000.

After the rail project is completed, living here and commuting to Los Angeles for work starts to sound a lot more do-able. And, as demand increases, Henriquez expects prices could rise 20 to 25 percent.

"I mean, you'll basically make more money," Henriquez says. "The price of the property will go up."

Other business could also benefit from shortened commute times.

Roxana Martinez owns Lucky Roxy's Café. She often doesn't see her regulars during the work-week because so much of their free time is eaten by the commute.

"By the time they get home, it's practically like 7:30, 8 o'clock," she says. "The kids are going to sleep, so they're not really going to go out and dine. So I think that, just having that station here, and reducing the commute, I see it as a benefit to us. I see more customers coming in."

Roxy's customers rave about the café's country gravy. And while it's too much to call high-speed rail her 'gravy train,' it will help her sell more gravy.


For Greece's Farmers, Growing Pressure To Be More Competitive

NPR News - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:09

Greece grows plenty of good agricultural products, but has trouble competing internationally. Many in Greece say it's time for the farm sector to modernize and become more competitive.

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Political ads mean big bucks for television stations

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:07

Steven Shepard of Politico says we can look forward to tons of television advertisements this presidential election season.

“Campaign advertising in 2016 is estimated to top about $4.4 billion," he says. "That combines the advertising run by the campaigns and the candidates themselves, and also the growth of super PACs in the post-Citizens United era. It is $500 million more than was spent in 2012, in the last presidential election." 

Even though younger generations use the internet to get most of their information, ads are still primarily focused on television.

Shepard says, "the future might be digital, but the problem is that the advertising hasn’t really caught up with that. The ways in which you can reach people, target them, television …live television is still the best way to do that.” 

Television ads are so successful that local news stations are adding more local broadcasts in order to sell more ad space.

“The entire purpose behind that is to create more advertising inventory that they can sell to political campaigns and super PACs,” Shepard says. 

This might be good news for television stations, but for those in swing states, this election season is going to be a long one.

“If you live in a swing state or one of the early nominating states … you’re going to get the barrage over the winter, and then you’re going to get it again over the summer and fall,” Shepard says.

New York to rebuild LaGuardia Airport

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:01

Here's some great news and terrible news for the flying public: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he's going tear down LaGuardia Airport.

Tear it right down — and rebuild it.

They're going to break ground on the first bit early next year, and it's going to take just more than three years and $4 billion for a new Central Terminal.

Great — eventually. But can you imagine the delays?

After riots, Baltimore liquor stores struggle to reopen

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:00

The looters came in through the back. They pried open a fence and tore the door off the frame, then stripped the shelves, smashed the ATM and busted open the cash registers.

“I can do nothing,” says Michael Ghebru, who owns Doc’s Liquors in Sandtown-Winchester. The neighborhood was Ground Zero during the April riots in Baltimore, following the death of Freddie Gray.  One of the hardest things, says Ghebru, is that he recognized some of his own customers among the 50 or so looters, who tore through his store.

Luwam Gebrab (left) and Ghenet Ghergish at Doc’s Liquors

Amy Scott

Ghebru, who came here from Eritrea, says he lost more than $75,000 worth of liquor and food that night. He has insurance, but if he applied for aid from the city he would be out of luck. 

Doc’s is considered a non-conforming liquor store.

“They’re called nonconforming because it’s clear that they’re inconsistent with the neighborhood that they’re in,”  says Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore.

Zoning rules introduced in 1971,  banned liquor stores in certain residential areas, but the 100 or so that were already there—like Doc’s—were allowed to stay. Rawlings-Blake’s administration has been pushing to close those stores. When the city offered emergency loans to businesses damaged in the riots, she excluded the 20 nonconforming liquor stores—unless they relocate or start selling something else, like fresh fruits and vegetables.

“I heard from the residents, I heard from business leaders, with a unified voice, that they did not want any city dollars to go towards reopening the nonconforming liquor stores,” Rawlings-Blake says.

One of those residents is Elder Clyde William Harris. He’s lived in Sandtown-Winchester for 65 years, and founded Newborn Holistic Ministries, a group fighting poverty in the neighborhood.

“Any corner where there is a liquor establishment, check those corners out. Hot spots in our community,”  he says. “We do not need that.”

What they do need, residents say, are family restaurants and grocery stores. But those businesses can be expensive to start, and difficult to run. Liquor stores are relatively easy to manage and don’t require a big investment. Plus, alcohol has a high profit margin, and there’s a lot of demand.

The owners are often immigrant families from Korea, South Asia, and the Middle East, says Abraham Hurdle, a lawyer who represents several liquor store owners.

“The vast majority of them are small business owners working seven days a week, often, just to put food on the table, put their kids in college—just the same old American dream as everybody else,” he says. “To say they're responsible for all the problems that Baltimore has, it's just plain unfair.” 

If only there weren’t so many of these businesses so close together, community activists say. They point to studies showing that high concentrations of liquor stores are associated with more violent crime and health problems.

Debra Furr-Holden is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She drives me to the neighborhood of Park Heights in Northwest Baltimore. We pass block after block of boarded-up buildings and empty lots, until we come to a commercial strip with three cell phone stores, a fried chicken joint, and four liquor stores—with another on the corner of the next block.

“That creates a cluster of five liquor stores within a one-block area,” Furr-Holden says.

Doc’s Liquors from the outside. 

Amy Scott

One sells some groceries. Another has a small bar attached and sells pipes and herbal Viagra. But they have one thing in common. Nearly everything is behind a thick layer of bullet-proof plexiglass.

“So you literally can't touch the products, you can’t browse through the products,” she says. “I just think it's a very dehumanizing way to make purchases.”

Behind the glass at Doc’s Liquors in Sandtown-Winchester, a cashier does a steady business selling sodas and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Plenty of booze passes through, too.

Owner Michael Ghebru says he doesn’t feel great about selling liquor to obviously desperate people on a weekday morning, but he says shutting down a few stores won’t change Baltimore.

“The problem is not liquor stores, that I believe,” he says. “Everybody knows the problem.”

It’s the lack of jobs, he says.

In this neighborhood, more than half of working-age people are unemployed. Ghebru plans to stay in business even without help from the city, but stores like his face a longer-term threat. Baltimore is in the midst of its first zoning overhaul in more than 40 years, which could force nonconforming liquor stores to stop selling alcohol.

Crude oil is plunging ... again

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:00

A barrel of American crude is selling for less than $50 once again; a year ago the price was north of $90.


The bear market for oil production is a reaction to an unexpected glut, Marketplace's Scott Tong says. Last year, when OPEC signaled that it wouldn't cut the U.S. supply, oil producers all over the world kept pumping, he says. U.S. shale oil production keeps going, despite fracking. Saudi Arabia has record levels and Iraq oil is back "in a big way." Iranian could re-enter the market because of the potential lifting of sanctions.


Some analysts think the U.S. won’t see $100 barrels of oil for maybe five years, Tong says. The pessimists include drillers, who are cutting $200 billion in investments to stay afloat. Morgan Stanley likens this to the 1986 oil crash, which took the U.S. industry two decades to recover. Another camp says we’re in a new period of volatility. Before, OPEC was the price shock absorber, but it doesn't want that job any more. So perhaps we’ve entered the boom-bust-boom-bust chamber, he says.


All over the world, oil producers are struggling. In the oil sands area of Canada where it’s expensive to drill, unemployment has doubled and most new projects have been shelved. Venezuela is running out of petroleum revenue dollars to buy imports, which is especially problematic because most of its products are imported. Inflation there is 100 percent or more. Russia’s careening toward recession. In the Gulf of Mexico, drilling rigs have fallen by a thousand, and here in the United States, there have been tens of thousands of layoffs.


Oil producers are addicted to the revenue, but the picture is changing for consumers. According to the international energy agency, demand is slowing in rich countries – western Europe, Japan, the U.S. Even though emerging economies are buying more, demand will slow and eventually flatten out around 2040.


Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

If China sneezes, does the U.S. catch a cold?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-07-27 13:00

It’s not exactly comforting to see the stock market of the world’s second-largest economy take a nose dive. China saw the biggest single-day drop – 8 percent — in its stock market in eight years, following weeks of volatility and decline. 

At a time when the U.S. is starting to recover, should we worry? Not particularly, or at least not yet.

First, those feeling most of the pain from China’s stock market are the Chinese.

“China’s financial markets are mostly closed off to those outside the country,” says Nadège Rolland, senior project director for the National Bureau of Asian Research.  “So of all the shares in China’s stock market, foreigners own less than 2 percent — by some estimates it’s 1.5 percent.”

One of the many reasons for this is so that the Chinese government can maintain control over its market and do things like threaten to arrest people who sell off shares. Just today, China’s equivalent of the Securities and Exchange Commission has reportedly put started a hotline for reporting “people who are ‘maliciously selling,’” says Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management. “I don’t know what malicious selling is actually, but you can be reported for it.”

The stronger links between the U.S. and China are through trade, not financial markets. Even on that front, however, the effects of China’s economic slowdown on the U.S. are “real, but limited,” says Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. China accounts for “about 7 percent of our exports, and exports are not a really huge chunk of our overall economy, so only about a percentage of our production is getting sold in China.”

“Although people imagine China is a growth driver for the global economy, China has been running chronic trade surpluses, so it really derives growth from other countries,” Chovanec says. “That’s neither good nor bad, that’s just the reality.”

U.S. companies operating in China are experiencing the slowdown differently. Lardy says those like Caterpillar or United Technologies — which are heavily tied to China’s now-waning construction boom — are suffering. Companies that are selling directly to Chinese consumers – YUM brands’ KFC and Pizza Hut, for example – are doing exceedingly well.  iPhone sales have surged and Apple expects China to be its largest market in the world within a few years.

“China is attempting to move from an investment-driven to a consumer-driven economy,” says Robert Whitelaw, professor of entrepreneurial finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “And it’s not easy to do, because it has been investment-driven for so long.”

But if that’s what rises out of the rubble of China’s growing pains, it may be to the benefit of the U.S., Chovanec says. 

“There’s a tendency for people to look at growth as a uniformly positive thing; any growth is good, and any slowdown is bad for global economy,” he says. “But that’s not really the case. A lot of the growth over the past five or six years in China was bad growth — credit-fueled overinvestment, a buildout of overcapacity that pushed down prices around world and made it tough for other economies to grow.”   

The end of that process, Chovanec says, will ultimately be a relief for other sectors of global economy. “Ultimately, if the Chinese support consumption, this will ultimately turn China into a driver of growth.  A lot of people think China is a driver of growth now; it has the potential to be as it undergoes this economic adjustment.”